Post-Game Analysis: Minnesota
by Jonathan Hodges

Northwestern (6-1, 2-1) reached bowl eligibility with a relatively ugly win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2) in an always important intra-division showdown. But the Wildcats are focused on more than just another bowl trip with the Legends Division still very much up for grabs and NU tied in the win column with both Michigan and Iowa and the 'Cats heading into a critical three game stretch that includes those two aforementioned teams plus Nebraska. But for a moment, NU fans can savor getting back into the win column and can begin clearing their calendars in late December and early January.

NU took advantage of a couple of key Minnesota mistakes early (a fumbled opening kickoff and an interception a couple of series later) plus the loss of QB Max Shortell to an injury early and MarQueis Gray later on (sending Shortell back into the game). NU got up 21-3 early on in the contest thanks to some stellar running from Venric Mark (he hit paydirt twice on runs from scrimmage), and that would prove to be enough as the 'Cats went into halftime 21-10 and then only gave up a field goal over the final two quarters.

Though the NU offense underwhelmed thanks to virtually no production outside of Mark (he accounted for 66.2% of NU's total offense on the day) and not putting any points on the board in the second half, Minnesota had their share of errors (they had an astounding seven fumbles on the day, two of which were recovered by the Wildcats) which kept them off of the scoreboard. And both teams had problems with the yellow flag, combining for 20 penalties on a day that featured rain throughout much of the middle of the contest.

In the end, though, a win is a win, and once again NU found a way to pull this one off with what turned out to be a solid defensive effort. Now NU can clearly look ahead at each of their next three opponents in pivotal games for the divisional race.

Player of the Game: NU RB/KR/PR Venric Mark (20 carries for 182 yards, 9.1 yards/carry, 2 TDs; 2 kick returns for 32 yards; 1 punt return for 0 yards) Hard to go wrong here, as Mark ripped off multiple long runs, including a 26 yarder on the first play from scrimmage to put NU up with just 11 seconds ticked off the clock, and the 'Cats would not relinquish that lead. He later had a 48 yard run to put the 'Cats up big early in the second quarter and NU would ride out the lead from there.

Northwestern Honorable Mentions:
Defense: the defense as a whole had some issues early, but put together a bend-but-don't-break performance as they ended the day with three sacks, two takeaways (another was credited to special teams), held Minnesota to 3.8 yards per carry after getting gashed early, plus allowed the Gophers to complete just 53.3% of their passes. Overall, a solid effort that continues to propel NU to wins when the offense hasn't put on a show.

What to Work on:
2 QB System: I have been a huge proponent of the 2 QB system ever since it was unveiled in the TicketCity Bowl following the 2010 system, and have been especially high on it through late last season (during NU's four game winning streak) and, of course, early this season (highlighted by the school record total offense output against Indiana). But over the past two games things have turned south with Trevor Siemian going through a huge sophomore slump, with a completion rate of just 51.1% over those games with a yards per attempt average of 3.2, which just won't get it done. Siemian needs to get back in sync, and the 'Cats need to gain more balance on offense no matter which QB is in the game. This will be key against the coming tough three game stretch that will define the season's fait.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

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